Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer wants to make getting healthcare as easy as going to your neighborhood pharmacy

Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer wants to make getting healthcare as easy as going to your neighborhood pharmacy
Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Roz Brewer is the second Black woman in history to be named a permanent CEO of a Fortune 500 company.Walgreens

Rosalind "Roz" Brewer knows what it's like to be "the first" or "the only."


Brewer, who runs Walgreens Boots Alliance, is only the second Black female to be named the permanent CEO of a Fortune 500 company, after Ursula Burns became the head of Xerox in 2009. Brewer was also the first Black person and the first woman in her previous roles as the chief operating officer at Starbucks and the CEO of Sam's Club.

"Over the course of my career, whether I was a bench chemist or a CEO, I have often been a 'first' and unfortunately many times I've also been the only African-American person in the boardroom or the C-suite," Brewer told Insider via email. "It's changing, but not quickly enough and there's more work to do."

Brewer, 60, is chasing a new first of sorts in her role at Walgreens: turning the $33 billion pharmacy chain into a destination healthcare company.

After stepping into power at America's second-largest pharmacy during the deadliest disease event in US history, Brewer has been pursuing a wide-ranging strategy to remake the company. In the past year, she led Walgreens through several acquisitions, drove technology investments, made internal changes to advance diversity and inclusion, and championed the notion of equity in interviews.


"The biggest lesson here is to question the status quo and make decisions, pull triggers," Brewer said in a March video posted on the company's website. "This year has taught me to never settle and to question."

Bringing healthcare to your neighborhood

Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer wants to make getting healthcare as easy as going to your neighborhood pharmacy
Brewer has been leading an acquisition strategy.Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

If all goes according to Brewer's vision, Walgreens will be as well known for being a healthcare provider as it is for being a pharmacy. The company's larger rival, CVS Health, is following a similar strategy of making healthcare a bigger part of its business.

"I want my legacy as a business leader to be affordable, accessible, quality healthcare in the US, so I am most excited for next year to continue delivering on our company's vision to reimagine local healthcare and well-being for all," she told Insider.

Part of the way Walgreens intends to boost its healthcare offerings is through acquisitions. In November, the company said it would buy Summit Health-CityMD, a chain of urgent-care and primary-care facilities, for almost $9 billion. And in September, Walgreens said it would spend more than $1.3 billion to snap up a remaining stake in Shields Health Solutions. Shields specializes in specialty drugs used to treat complex or rare conditions.

"Dispensing of pharmaceuticals is not going to be our long-term growth avenue," Brewer said at a 2022 healthcare-industry conference, according to FierceHealthcare.


Her strategy also includes investing in new technologies, as well as advocating for a greater stake in mental-health treatment.

In a June interview at the Aspen Ideas conference, Brewer said she was excited about automating pharmacist and pharmacy-technician work that slows prescription filling and cuts into time spent with customers. She also spoke about expanding Walgreens' use of fulfillment centers for common prescriptions, like those for high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Those medicines would then be transported to pharmacies.

At Aspen, Brewer also talked about topics like "food as medicine" and "fully caring for ourselves." She sees Walgreens as a place where customers can get their prescriptions filled, see a nurse on-site, talk with a social worker about arranging transportation to their next appointment, and maybe have a discussion with someone qualified to assess mental health.

But healthcare is complex and even the company's long-standing pharmacy business comes with challenges. Walgreens, for example, will pay $5 billion over the next 10 years to settle lawsuits related to its role in dispensing opioids.

Prioritizing company culture and diversity

Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer wants to make getting healthcare as easy as going to your neighborhood pharmacy
Brewer has been championing diversity and inclusion for years.Alex Gallardo/Reuters

Brewer recently wrote an Economist op-ed about why leaders need to embrace the Great Resignation. The best leaders, she said, will support workers' need for purpose and wellness.

"Years ago, company culture was viewed as the light and fluffy stuff," she wrote. "But the facts and data show that a healthy company culture delivers results, and this has never been clearer to me than right now."

In October, Brewer eliminated task-based metrics from performance reviews for pharmacy staff, reducing pressure on employees and instead incentivizing staff to spend more time caring for patients.

Additionally, Brewer has made diversity and inclusion a focus. In November, Walgreens became the first company in the S&P 500 to disclose disability-representation workforce data and to tie leadership's bonuses to increasing the representation of people with disabilities within the company.

Embracing diversity is no longer an option for leaders, according to Brewer.


"Employees expect to bring their entire identity as people to work, and not to compartmentalize their values and keep them separate," she wrote in the Economist. "As leaders, we will need to listen more to our employees and our wider communities."